The Asian-American Bar Association of Kansas City hosted one of India’s top judges last week.
Judge Kurian Joseph, a member of the country’s Supreme Court, spoke to more than 60 people assembled by the AABAKC at Husch Blackwell.
Ronald Nguyen, president of the AABAKC and an attorney for Legal Aid of Western Missouri, said Joseph’s visit was arranged by one of Joseph’s college friends in Kansas City who is a longtime family friend of brothers Henry and Zach Thomas, both AABAKC members.
Nguyen said when he heard Joseph was going to be in town to visit his friend, he became interested in putting together an event.
“It was a quick rush (to organize), but it turned out nicely,” he said.
Nguyen said Joseph’s visit is in line with a goal of the group, to provide learning opportunities for its members and the community.
“We want to expand to make it not just networking, but also to have things like this where it brings people together to learn about the legal system in general, not only in the United States, but abroad, and to get a better understanding of other cultures,” he said.
The crowd included a mix of the group and members of the judiciary ranging from the Jackson County Circuit Court to the Missouri Supreme Court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Joseph gave an explanation of the court’s jurisdiction and setup. The Supreme Court bench is made up of 31 judges, although currently 29 of the 31 judgeships are filled.
He noted that only one of his fellow judges is a woman, and said India’s first woman Supreme Court judge took the bench in 1998, 48 years after the establishment of the court.
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“I’m happy to know that of the seven judges in this state’s high court, three are ladies,” he said.
He added that there are 842 judges of India’s high courts — separate of the Supreme Court — and fewer than 50 are women.
Joseph said one difference between the U.S. and India is the caseload of the Supreme Court. Where the U.S. Supreme Court hears about 80 cases a year, India’s counterpart takes 13,000.
One shared point between the two countries is the independence of the judiciary. Joseph said that idea is central to India’s constitution.
“Neither the parliament, nor any constitutional amendment … can amend the Constitution’s basic structure,” he said.
He said constitutional supremacy is also a key element of government in India.
“Our principle is, what the constitution is, it is for the court to say,” he said. “What the constitution should be, the parliament can say.”
Following the presentation, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith said she found the discussion fascinating.
“I’m delighted to know there’s another democracy that has put so much thought into their judicial selection process,” she said.
Stith said a downside of India’s system might be that judges are less able to give as much consideration to policy issues as the U.S. Supreme Court, because of its caseload.
“I think that’s valuable that we have that here, but I’m not sure given the number of cases that they have that there’s a way for them to do something different,” she said. “But I think the independence of the judiciary that they have so enshrined in their law is very important.”
Henry Thomas, an attorney for Husch Blackwell, said he thought Joseph’s talk was interesting, particularly learning that India’s Supreme Court does not use law clerks as part of decision writing.
“It’s something we rely on and the amount of cases that they handle on a day-to-day basis is incredible,” he said.